Welcome to another installment of The Grouse's semi-annual lambasting of poor practices on the Web. When I compiled my first list of all things online and terrible six months ago, I thought I'd been fairly comprehensive. CAPTCHAs, tooltip ads, bottomless dropdown menus and audio ads were among the archaic and ill-conceived online "experiences" thrown on the fire. But just six months later, I find myself with a host of new grievances to air.
PopSci.com readers were quick to point a couple of them out straightaway in the comments section of the original list. User rcauniversal even called us out for breaking posts up into multiple pages, a practice popular across the Web as a means to maximize page views. Touché, rcauniversal. We've since limited page breakups to only very lengthy stories and to stories that are stuffed with images and video.
[Click here for page two]
There are many more evil online practices to get bristly about. If you're a Web company or individual that employs any of them, I beg you to stop the madness.
Video tooltip ads
Your run-of-the-mill tooltip ads are criminal enough. My biggest charge against them is that they prey on the way we've been conditioned to use the Web, i.e., the notion that links take you to relevant content. Tooltips deceive you into mousing over fake links, and when you do they momentarily freeze your browser up to inject an advertisement next to your mouse. The only thing that could possibly be more insulting would be if the ad were a video that started playing automatically -- and with sound. I only recently discovered this horror, which you can see in action here (mouseover the double-underlined word "advertising" in the second paragraph). This is an assault on good taste and good business.
Has anyone else noticed that IMDB has engineered a workaround for popup blockers? Despite having my popup zapper armed and unholstered in both Firefox and Safari, IMDB still manages to squeak popups by. And, as you'd expect, the ads are the absolute bottom of the barrel. This is a tough one, because it's a company's right to annoyingly pop ads up in our faces. It's also a company's right to figure ways around our attempts to block them. But get a clue. The fact that popup blockers are now built right into every major Web browser is a sign that the Web-going public has voted overwhelmingly against the popup. The IMDB ads are especially loathsome for two reasons: 1) They're actually popunders -- so they pop up, but then burrow themselves underneath all of your other browser windows only to be discovered much later. 2) IMDB is owned by Amazon, which is usually on the very cutting edge of user interface best practices. You're better than that, Bezos.
I recently received an email from a former co-worker inviting me to join her on a site called DesktopDating.net. I found it immediately suspicious since the woman and I didn't know each other well, and since we're about 30 years apart in age. I checked the site out and my suspicions were confirmed. Calling DesktopDating.net "low-rent" would be a compliment. It was immediately clear to me that my contact information had been stolen from a person whose own contact information had been accidentally stolen from another person. In addition to DesktopDating.net, the New York Times recently identified Tagged.com and MyLife.com as running the same scheme. What's happening here is similar to what happens when you sign up for Facebook or LinkedIn. You can supply a Gmail, Yahoo! or other email address, and have invites sent out automatically to friends. Where DesktopDating.net, Tagged.com, and MyLife.com differ from Facebook and LinkedIn is that when they ask for your address, they don't seem to be explicitly telling you that they're going to scrape your contacts and send out invites to everyone you've ever corresponded with. When friends receive an email addressed from you, which asks them to join up -- and even chides them if they don't -- some of them are going to bite the bait. And the cancer spreads.
The recent post-election unrest in Iran was certainly a coming-out party for Twitter. Unfortunately, it was also the end of innocence for the micro-blogging social network. While Twitter users broke news about demonstrations, UK-based furniture retailer Habitat exploited the site's hashtags, which allow users to follow topics rather than people. So, for example, following #mousavi on Twitter would result in tweets related to the Iranian incumbent's challenger. Or, in the case of Habitat's tweets, you'd get "#MOUSAVI Join the database for free to win a £1,000 gift card." Despicable? Yes. Inevitable? Most definitely. As a user on Consumerist.com commented, "I don't know what's worse, people FINALLY realizing Twitter can be used for advertising using popular keywords, or Twitter fans thinking it never would."
Autoplay video ads with no controls
I'm sure you've seen this before, and maybe you even knocked a coffee all over your keyboard in a fanatical grab at the volume knob on your speakers. You visit a site and begin reading. Suddenly, a video ad begins playing loudly. You locate the player and search desperately for the pause button. There isn't one! You search for the volume controls and realize those are missing, too. Your only options are to either find the volume on your speakers or close the browser window. Now, why on Earth would a site subject its users to this cruel, cruel dance? Experience it for yourself on the site of our dear friends, RecyclingForCharities.com (bottom of the page, takes a second to load).  Sorry guys, but those ads have got to go.
Google has spoiled me rotten -- rotten to the point that I can no longer tolerate weak search on my favorite websites. There's nothing I hate more than remembering a story I read on some site, and then going back to find it and coming up empty. I try to approximate the title, or fire as many keywords and tags into the search box as I can think of, but to no avail. So, what do I always end up doing? I hit Google and type in the URL of the site in question, along with a few words related to the article I'm looking for. Usually, the story I'm after is the top result.
Then there's the utter failure of most search results pages to guess what I'm trying to get at if I misspell something. How frustrating is it to sit there trying to guess exactly where the colons are supposed to go in some video game title you're interested in? How dumb is it that if you're one character off of the correct spelling, the site hasn't even the slightest inkling of what you might be searching for. As smart and well put together as a site may be, it's only as good as its search.
On the other end of the spectrum, there's Google's annoying habit of believing it knows what you're searching for better than you do. I don't mind a suggested spelling correction, but lately I've noticed Google making the spelling correction without asking me first.
Case in point: A friend recently told me of trying to determine if New York's Grand Central Oyster Bar served shad. He typed grand central shad into Google and was returned pages upon pages of results for grand central shade. Only one result on the first page made mention of "shad." There were a few on the second page, but one of those was actually about a person named Shad. The rest were for shade. Thing is, Google didn't ask, "did you mean shade?" It just went ahead and basically ignored my friend's actual request and replaced it with what it thought he meant. Hey, if there are no results for "grand central shad," then there are no results. Don't throw me bogus links because you think I can't spell.
That does it for this installment of "How to Lose Traffic and Alienate People." Did I miss anything this time around? If so, let her rip in the comments.
Google probably searches words themselves too, so if you do a search for fun, you will probably get "funny" and "funniest" as well as terms related to fun, albiet o a seperate page. Also, Google did do a search for shad, otherwise some guy named shad would not have come up in the first place.
Other than that, great article.
You could also add sites that frequently update their contents and don't have an RSS feed.
I have to agree with everything you said. Even though breaking up longer articles may piss off some users, If you can break up the articles into more specific sections, this will maximize your exposure to search engines. I too am annoyed by google's ability to do a search for words inside words. I guess that is what Bing is trying to expose and fix. However when searching for something specific, like how to code something, or why I got this exception in my .NET application, I often find that google is still the best in search.
well its also possible to have just searched for grand central "shad" and with the last part in quotes so then google won't automatically try and correct it.
I just have to say, that I fully agree with everything you said. I'm just very disappointed that once I was done with your article, I proceeded to another article and I was assaulted by the very video ad that you mentioned. I Really wish the administrators of popsci.com would read your article, and actually take it to heart.
no big surprise on the ad related stuff. The telemarketers/junkmailers have hit the web. Do they know that people hate most of this stuff? Sure, but it is probably profitable.
The business model seems to be to find some incredibly cheap method of passing your message to bezillions of consumers. They apparently get enough business from mistakes/unconscious name recognition and the like to keep going.
I think someone mentioned it in the comments in the original article, but it's still something around that really bothers me. The banner ad's that grow. There's a few types of these, the ones that when you mouse over, they grow and overlap things on the page, usually the link I want to click. Others just load small when the page loads, and with no provoking, they grow which moves all the content on the page down the screen so you lose your spot, then you correct it and then it shrinks, so you lose your place again. SO Frustrating!
Here is yet another way of driving traffic away from a search engine: About 2 years back, I was searching on Google to find Tag Heuer "success is a minds game" ads...and guess what, I have been bombarded with spam offers to sell fake Rolexes and Tag Heuers - even today.
Sorry for the double post but,
C'mon with the shad. Google is the best at taking whatever stupid thing you type in, and giving you the results that you're probably looking for. Honestly when you typed grand central shad even I thought you were looking for someone named shad in grand central.
Someone says shad and my first reaction is I think your not speaking english. Then you say shad is a type of fish you want in a restaurant and I get it. And yes someone pointed out above you could put shad in quotes and you won't get results for shade, you could also type in the word fish to give the engine a clue as to what the hell you're talking about.
Anyway 2 great articles on this subject in a row. Its great to see that even though PopSci is in this business, they're even willing to tell their partners when some of these things are out of whack.
Oh and ford2go, the problem with these ads and things that people clearly hate is that they can only be profitable in the short term. Sure an ad company will pay you to have its ads intrude your webpage because it gets a lot of traffic, but look what happens. The site gets less traffic people consumers don't want to see those annoying ad's, that makes ad companies want to pay less because you're getting less traffic, and in the end both parties lose, except the ad companies will find other websites to destroy.
Of course, the next step is to add -shade, and the problem is solved.
I'd like to know what's wrong with capcha. I think it's a neat idea, and I especially like recapcha, which has millions of people helping to put old books on line.
I'd put a couple things at the top of this list:
1. The high google rank of sites that want to charge you for answers to computer problems. Such info has always flowed blessedly freely on the nets. If it starts getting monetized, we're all screwed.
2. Unnecessary subscription processes. The days where even the most obscure sites demand I formalize my relationship with them need to end.
3. Searching for the Search Field. It's like a Where's Waldo game. Perhaps a Search Field to find the Search Field?
Some others I don't like:
1. Any sound on a top-level website. Top-level websites (ie, the thing you see when you go to www.foo.com) should be silent. In particular, don't have a top-level webpage with a ton of flash and cheezy techno "music"! Far too many little companies appear to think that the ability to have a ton of flash indicates "professionalism". Instead, it indicates that someone's kid put together the website and thinks it's kewl.
2. Banner ads that grow and shrink. I think a poster above mentioned these. I've noticed that lots of newspapers like these nowadays. These ads shove the rest of the page down when they expand, and bring it up when they go shrink, making it more likely I'll mis-click.
3. Ultra-tiny click boxes on any sort of ad. Sorry marketroids; 99.9% of people want to kill the evil floating ad ASAP, and making a four-pixel "x" that needs the skills of a first-person sharpshooter to hit won't make people happy.
Google seems to be getting worse. Search for "microeconomic textbook reviews". It does ask "Did you mean: macroeconomic textbook reviews" but only rhetorically, as 8 of the top 10 results are for macro.
If you search for "microeconomics textbook reviews" it doesn't even ask, with half the top 10 results coming up for macroeconomics.
Oh no, I just checked Google Scholar, and it can't differentiate micro and macro either. So much for trusting Google to search the scientific literature.
Google's corrections for me are normally helpful, but you're right, sometimes they are annoying. Check out the top result on Bing for the same query:
I don't know if Bing just doesn't do as many corrections, or if they're smarter about it, but whatever it is, the results for the shad query are better.
while this is all true i seem to remember some bad popsci practices too. For instance the "click here to take a survey and be entered to win" boxes that covered article titles. Then they got rid of PPX with out warning (It had been falling apart any way not paying off until users did their own research, posting it, and hoping). Not to mention their own popsci search is pretty weak and annoying. It returns 5 pages of the same article or sends you to pages that are pretty much just a list of 20 articles for you to sift through. I once spent 2 weeks off and on trying to find an article before i gave up and went through all the paper magazines I had to find it. so in the future fix some of you problems before pointing out others'.
sorry to repost but i have also noticed a lack of the ability to leave comments on some pages. whats up with that? now that PPX is gone if i cant leave comments why do i have a user name?
Excellent Info, I would like to share this with you aswell
Excellent list. Some things you find commonly on the web (and even occasionally in newsworthy locations) can be quite annoying when everyone starts using them.
I just have to say, that I fully agree with everything you said. I'm just very disappointed that
once I was done with your article, I proceeded to another article and I was assaulted by the very video ad that you mentioned. I Really wish the administrators of popsci.com would read your article, and actually take it to heart.
نموذج الأعمال ويبدو أن العثور على بعض طريقة رخيصة بشكل لا يصدق من تمرير الرسالة إلى شركة غازيليون للمستهلكين. يحصلون على ما يكفي من الأعمال على ما يبدو من الاخطاء / التعرف على اسم اللاوعي وترغب في الاستمرار في عملهم.